Monday, March 26, 2012

Book Review: A Confederacy of Dunces

Some books last for years on your 'to read' list. Despite great word of mouth reviews of the book, you never pull the trigger as more interesting titles catch your eye on Amazon or at the used book store. Confederacy of Dunces was one of these lingering unread books for me. There is supposedly a curse that this book will never be made into a movie regardless of who is attached to the script and the incredibly ridiculous material. I don't see it being a great movie, but I could see a fantastic HBO miniseries using the book's intricate subject material. Dunces is a slow moving book that picks up speed and is one idiotic scene after another by the end. Dunces also is a window into early '60s America and a warning for today.

New Orleans was a free wheeling place, yet even in the early '60s, the gays had to stay holed up behind closed doors, distributing porn was a crime, strip clubs had 'shows'. Blacks would work or faced vagrancy laws. Somehow the supreme court found vagrancy laws too vague, but let's look at it: a man with a job is tied to the area and has less idle time. The white ethnics still lived in big cities. The rich were still the rich, and college had only started to push the social justice agenda. Free love was creeping in, but the idea of marrying was still a big deal. Husbands and wives could coexist despising each other without the threat of divorce. You could send someone to a beach to live for the rest of their lives. Despite being set in the early '60s, I did not expect New Orleans to be under such restraint. Vice was there, but not as out in the open as today. Maybe New Orleans has remained the same and the rest of America has changed.

This book does have some alpha/beta bits to it. Mr. Levy finds a purpose to fix up the factory at the end, and instead of caving into his wife's demands and blackmail, he stands up for himself and wants to lead. Does his wife flip out, which is what one would expect considering her behavior throughout the book? Nope. She shuts up, goes to the store and follows him. Ignatius himself is a total beta, but he manages to have Myrna enthralled with him through the years. He plays it with his super autism game, and he constantly denies her at every opportunity. He acts as if he has no need for her, and mocks her at every step.

The warning for our modern era is Ignatius himself. Dunces's lead character Ignatius Reilly is a douchebag. He has dropped out of society compared to his peers. I hated him at first. As the book progressed, I realized he was an autistic only son of a single mom (widow). Ignatius was just the product of some odd genes combined with a smothering mother that never said no, suffocated him spiritually + emotionally, and used him a bit as a spouse substitute. Basically, Ignatius was how I imagined an autistic kid would grow up with a single mom, retarding his social development. Iggy is unable to read people. Iggy can't figure out that the p0rn postcard is a fake scene. Iggy sees a glorious, awesome person in the heart of anybody who agrees with him on the slightest thing, yet trashes anyone who puts up any resistance to his schemes (like your average college liberal). Looking deeper, Ignatius doe well enough at college to get two degrees, and spends all day writing in his notebooks. He is a fat, self centered bastard who abhors labor, and actually prefers living in his mom's house, holed up, watching tv only to berate the product, bloggin--- I mean writing in his notebooks about everything. I can't help it. We're surrounded by Ignatius Reillys. How many only children, or children of single moms that you know sound like Iggy? How many 20-somethings from Gen X or the Snowflake generation are like Ignatius? Iggy would be in an Occupy protest today. He had little grasp on reality, and preferred to immerse himself into fantasy and abstract thoughts. He would love the internet with its horrible nature as well as the ability for Ignatius to cocoon himself in an echo chamber of individuals who would enjoy the same things with the same viewpoint.

The book starts slowly, but is jam packed with interesting little bits of comedy. The author was pretty clever in his revelation of small important facts through the course of a scene. His recognition of alcohol, and his sly way of letting you know the amount consumed was pretty sneaky and smart. Scenes are ridiculous, characters are multidimensional, and I did not see the end coming. I really did expect a darker ending. The book is quite dark, so Ignatius' fate surprised me. I do recommend this book. It can be a very quick read if given a good setting, and it is quite enjoyable.

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